A Heller of a Timeline

August 20th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Okay, so the new Nate Heller novel isn’t out till next March. What’s taking you so long to order your copy? Here’s a peek at the cover, which I like quite a bit.


Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

My old pal Tony Isabella, the gifted comics writer who created Black Lightning, wondered a week or so ago if I had ever put together a time line, so that the Nate Heller stories could be read in chronological order. A fan did something along those lines, still posted here, but not updated (and unfortunately that loyal fan has passed away). So I have made an attempt at answering Tony’s request.

Keep in mind that math is somewhat involved here, and I am only famous where math is concerned for being pitifully simple-minded in its regard. Over the years it’s been a real effort not have Nate Heller in two places at the same time. I present this list more as a deterrent than a suggestion, because it demonstrates what a difficult and perhaps not useful process reading the Heller memoirs in order would be.

The major problem is that a number of the novels often begin in one year and jump to another in a second, and even another in a third section. The novels also often have flashback chapters, and I have only scratched the surface where the latterday things Heller does have been made part of this.

Do No Harm – did I mention it comes out in March of next year, and that you can order it now? – has two sections, one taking place in 1957, another in 1966. That’s why to read the Heller memoirs in chronological order, you have to shuffle the deck just so. To make the job possible, and yet harder, for you, I have included the novellas and short stories.

What this chronology mostly demonstrates is that Heller has been a busy boy, and so has his pappy.

The timeline of the Nathan Heller memoirs:

Stolen Away – March 4 – April 18 1932
Damned in Paradise – later April – May 1932
True Detective – December 19 – December 22 1932
“Kaddish for the Kid” (short story) – summer 1933
“The Blonde Tigress” (short story) – August 1933
“Private Consultation” (short story) – December 1933
True Crime – July 13 – September 1 1934
Flying Blind – March 11 – May 16, 1935
Blood and Thunder – August 30 – September 12, 1935
“The Perfect Crime” (short story) – December 1935
“House Call” (short story) – January 1936
Stolen Away – March 13 – April 4 1936
“Marble Mildred” (short story) – June 1936
Blood and Thunder – October 26 – November 10 1936
Flying Blind – March 17 – July 19, 1937
“The Strawberry Teardrop” (short story) – August 1938
The Million-Dollar Wound – November 6 – 12 1939
“Scrap” (short story) – December 1939
“Natural Death, Inc.” (short story) – March 1940
Flying Blind – May 6 – June 4 1940
Majic Man – September 1940
“Screwball” (short story) – May 1941
The Million-Dollar Wound – November 1942
The Million-Dollar Wound – February 2 – March 20 1943
Carnal Hours – July 1943 – approximately September 1943
“That Kind of Nag” (short story) – May 1945
Neon Mirage – June 24 – August 21 1946
Neon Mirage – December 15 – June 20 1947
Angel in Black – January 1947
“Unreasonable Doubt” (short story) – March 1947
Dying in the Post-war World (novella) – July 1947
Majic Man – March – May 1949
“Shoot-Out On Sunset” (short story) – late summer 1949
Better Dead – May 1, 1950
Chicago Confidential – September – November 1950
Strike Zone (novella) – August 1951
Better Dead – March 26 – June 1953
Kisses of Death (novella) – June 1953
Better Dead – November 1953
Kisses of Death (novella) – February 1954
Do No Harm – 1957
Target Lancer – Fall 1960
Strike Zone (novella) – June 1961
Bye Bye, Baby – May 23 – August 1962
Ask Not – Late summer 1962
Target Lancer – October 25 – November 29 1963
Ask Not – September 1964
Do No Harm – 1966
Flying Blind – February 1970
Target Lancer – a few days before Christmas, 1973

My recommended reading order to give you a roughly chronological read, without whiplash, while letting each case finish itself:

True Detective
Stolen Away
Damned in Paradise
True Crime
Blood and Thunder
Flying Blind
The Million-Dollar Wound
Carnal Hours
Neon Mirage
Angel in Black
Majic Man
Chicago Confidential
Better Dead
Bye Bye, Baby
Target Lancer
Ask Not
Do No Harm

But my preference? I think my development as a writer (and perhaps my inevitable decline) will be better observed by reading the novels in the order I wrote them:

True Detective
True Crime
The Million-Dollar Wound
Neon Mirage
Stolen Away
Carnal Hours
Blood and Thunder
Damned in Paradise
Flying Blind
Majic Man
Angel in Black
Chicago Confidential
Bye Bye, Baby
Target Lancer
Ask Not
Better Dead
Do No Harm

The two collections – novellas in Triple Play and the short stories in Chicago Lightning – can be read any time, and in any order, you choose. You’re welcome!

Gathering this material reminds me how much I like these books. This is not to say I love every turn of phrase or twist of plot. But I am proud of what they accomplish – specifically looking at these famous crimes and mysteries in a fresh, in-depth manner while creating a private detective who I think can stand shoulder to shoulder with Marlowe and Hammer. That’s obviously immodest, but I often think of what my late friend, Stu Kaminsky, said about his Hollywood private eye, Toby Peters: “I really like those books,” he told me. “I have fun doing them.”

I have fun writing Heller, too, although the research has been brutally hard. Writing Do No Harm, I could only think back to the pre-Google days of many trips to libraries to look at microfiche and bound copies of old magazines, the countless trips to used bookstores to search out ancient magazines and forgotten volumes. On second thought, I kind of miss that….

Not really.

* * *

Here is a terrific review of Girl Most Likely in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine:

**** Max Allan Collins, Girl Most Likely, Thomas & Mercer, $15.95. Chief Krista Larson of Galena, Illinois is the youngest female police chief in the country. The night of her ten-year high-school reunion, a beautiful former classmate is stabbed to death. Krista’s father, a retired Iowa detective, makes a connection between this murder and the stabbing of another classmate in Florida several months earlier. Father and daughter and the small Galena police force interview suspects and follow clues to catch the killer. Girl Most Likely reminded me of Longmire crossed with Grosse Point Blank fitted into a closed-circle plot worthy of Agatha Christie.

My co-author, A. Brad Schwartz, appeared at the Mississippi Book Festival in support of our Scarface and the Untouchable. Here’s the true crime panel, on which he did a terrific job.

M.A.C.

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8 Responses to “A Heller of a Timeline”

  1. Thomas Zappe says:

    I grow less and less concerned about proper timelines as I become more and more unable to remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

    If Mel Brooks doesn’t let a few years more or less get in the way of a good autobiographical story, who are we to play Leonard Maltin? As my father told me when I was assembling a work resume, “Don’t put in all the jobs you’ve been fired from, that just confuses the issue.”

  2. Sean Kelly says:

    Shouldn’t there be a 60s/70s entry for Carnal Hours? Nate did go back for some conch fritters (if I recall correctly).

    Tony’s comments got me to thinking that I should read these again too. I thoroughly enjoyed these books over the years and Stolen Away is my favorite. It is one of my go-tos when I have to give someone a book as a gift. (Good Omens, Old Man’s War and Dune are my other go-tos) Maybe I’ll get the audiobooks since my car doesn’t have a cassette player for those original audio adaptions. I can’t wait for Do No Harm – the Sheppard case was still public interest when I was a kid in the 70s.

  3. Gerard Saylor says:

    I like that Heller cover.

  4. Sean, I mention in the update that I didn’t include all of the latterday things Heller does (i.e., things in the final whatever-happened-to chapters). Probably should have, but it was a big enough job as it was. Another reader has provided a really complete timeline that I will share here next week.

  5. Gary Bush says:

    Thanks for the timeline. I missed Chicago Lighting and Triple Play, but I will add them to my Heller collection. My math is lousy too. Learning disability. Stolen Away my favorite as well.

  6. Thanks, Max. I like these books a lot, too, even if I am a few behind in reading them. Since I don’t want to jump from book to shorter story to book and such, you present two equally good choices: your relatively painless chronological order and your publication order. I honestly don’t know which I’ll read them in at this point. I put a bunch of them on my Kindle to read when I’m traveling or taking breaks from my writing office. No matter how I decide, I’m looking forward to reading these again and also reading your and Terry’s Ms. Tree comics again. I read a lot of comics from all over the world these days…and am reducing my Vast Accumulation of Stuff dramatically…but I can’t imagine not being without Nate and Michael and your other characters. Hope to reconnect with you on the trail in 2020.

  7. Steve Atwell says:

    I’ve been working on updating the Heller chronology as well, & am glad to see that I’m on the right track. I’m also adding in the Eliot Ness books, as well as the, ‘Road to. . .’ series. Not to mention, ‘Caribbean Blues’. I’m also pulling out events from the appendices, to be thorough. I can send you what I’ve got so far, if you’d like.

  8. Steve, tomorrow (next update) a much more thorough timeline will appear here.

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